Demon Slayer: Fighting for the Fallen
I owe my delving into the world of Demon Slayer 100% to the cosplay community. Between spending half my weekends at cons to a ton of my Instagram feed being cosplayers I met at cons, I often am exposed to characters I’ve never seen or heard of before. Seeing the different interpretations of Nezuko honestly intrigued me. So finally, when it came time to watch something new, I slowly began watching Demon Slayer on Hulu. At the time, the only version that was available was the sub.
Let’s be face it. It’s a lot more of a commitment to watch anime subbed. We are all so used to being distracted by phones, even when we watch tv, that a show you literally have to read every word means undivided attention. I took my time and plowed through the series, and about 2/3 through season 1, I really started getting hit hard when they would do the whole thing of the demon’s being remorseful and contrite towards their misguided actions as a demon. These creatures were often times just lost souls that embraced their darkness once being transformed. Deep inside they were carrying regret about what they were before, and who they had become.
The demons in Demon Slayer aren’t what Christians or the Bible refer to as demons. Biblical demons are fallen angels that followed Satan. Demon Slayer demons are much more along the lines of zombies or vampires (or Zompires, as referred to in Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic books). Once infected with the blood of Muzan or his high-ranking officials, you become a savage monstrous shell of who you formerly were, feeding on human flesh and unable to come into the sunlight without pain of death.
So yeah. Zompires. The story kicks off with young Tanjiro returning home from market to find his entire family slaughtered, and his only surviving family member, his sister Nezuko, in bad shape. We quickly find that Nezuko has herself become a demon, and Tanjiro is left to fend for his life while his heart is still broken and tattered from the loss of his family. Quickly, the Demon Slayer, Giyu Tomioka, arrives to dispatch Nezuko, but upon seeing Tanjiro’s determination and willingness to sacrifice for his sister, he grants them both mercy.
After this, Giyu sets Tanjiro off on the path to becoming a Demon Slayer himself. After some periods of intense training, Tanjiro achieves the rank of Demon Slayer and does his business of hunting demons and hoping for a cure for his sister along the way.
One of the things that sets Tanjiro apart from not only the other demon slayers, but also the world at large, is that he would choose to care and champion for someone who has become a monster, for lack of better terms. His sister, Nezuko, is a demon now. Most people in the world, including his demon slaying counterparts, would quickly decapitate her and move on with their lives without a second thought. In fact, a few of them have tried. But from the moment Tanjiro found his sister in a wounded state, he vowed never to give up on her, and that didn’t change even when she became a demon.
It didn’t matter to him what she had become. She was still his sister, and that’s all that mattered. Not only did he not abandon her. He carried her. Because she wasn’t feasting on humans, her body was weak and she had to sleep for great periods of time. Compile that with the fact that she couldn’t be out in daylight, Tanjiro took it upon himself to literally carry her on his journeys. Nezuko is safely strapped to his back in a backpack like box, resting and safe while her brother adventures across the land on her behalf.
While it’s not likely people in our lives will become demon-y Zompires, they can often become something terrible. Through temptation, struggles, pain, or pressure they can come to a place where they allow sin to become the driving force and identity of their lives. Quite often the people who are caught up in sin can’t even see it or recognize it. Much like the demon slayer corps, many “Christian’s” answer to seeing someone caught up in sin is to cut their head off.
While they might leave their physical jugular intact, it happens far too often that the “righteous” will attack the ones who are struggling both emotionally and spiritually, and often without a second thought.
When he saw his sister was struggling, bound up in the evil that had taken over her life, he guarded her. He literally carried her burden. That’s what we are called to do as Christians.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. - Galatians 6:1-5
Paul tells the Galatian church that when we see someone struggling, they should be restored gently. The last thing we should do is come running at them with our own self-righteous swords of condemnation. That term there for “restore” in the Greek is what it would be to set a broken bone. Restoring someone may not always be quick or painless, but it should be with the purpose of healing in mind.
There are also two different terms for “burdens” in this passage. The words here are “burden,” and then a little later, he uses the word “load.”
The Greek word for burden is “Baros.” This is the weight of the emotional stress, drama, anguish, and suffering placed on us. These are things we aren’t meant to carry on our own. When we are overwhelmed and overloaded, it’s often these things that are weighing us down. When Paul commands Christians to carry each other’s burdens, he is commanding us to carry the weight of those things weighing someone down.
Tanjiro literally put Nezuko’s burdens in a box and carried them with a loving and generous attitude. Imagine what it would be like if Christians actually carried each other’s burdens with that much grace.
The second word of burden is load. The Greek word for load in this context is “Phortion.” This load is the things that we are responsible for carrying, and that no one else can. Nezuko’s load is that she has to refrain from attacking a human, that she must sleep long hours, and avoid the sun. That’s her load. Tanjiro made it possible for her to carry her load because he carried her burdens.
So often we see people struggling and stumbling because they are carrying both their load and their burden. We stand back and watch them struggle, stumble, and fall, while during all that time, we could have been the ones to actually help them to do what they need to as they move forward, grow, and thrive.
There’s also a context to this passage as well. Paul said that the ones who should carry the burden and restore the stumbling are those who live by the Spirit. In order for Tanjiro to do these things for Nezuko, he had to have proper training. He had to condition himself. He had to learn Water Breathing and a metric ton of other crazy sword techniques and disciplines. If he had continued to try to care for Nezuko without taking those steps, they both would have perished.
The same is true for us. If we aren’t willing to actually walk in the Spirit of God and follow where God is leading us, then there is no possible way for us to restore others or carry their burdens. Now it may be all well and good that Tanjiro is compassionate to the demon that just so happens to be his sister, but it goes beyond that. Tanjio is often compassionate or merciful even to the demon’s that he is forced to strike down.
One of the first major demon he kills is the morphed demon. He’s a giant green bundle of appendages from the people he has devoured. Once Tanjiro defeats him, in the demon’s dying moments, he is scared. As his life flashes before him, he reflects on his regret for attacking his brother. Tanjiro not only walks over to the demon and holds its hand as it fades, but even takes time to stop and say a prayer for it.
When the demon who had been puppeteering dead slayers all throughout the woods sees that Tanjiro is about to attack her, she lowers her guard so that she can be free from the suffering, and Tanjiro changes his attack from being fierce and powerful to being one that is gentle and calm so that there is no suffering on her behalf.
When he fought the drumming demon, as the demon laid defeated, Tanjiro literally took the time to recognize the demon’s writing and art skill. It was apparently something that the demon had been riddled with insecurities over and had haunted his soul for years. Tanjiro’s acknowledgment left the demon in tears that he had been validated, even though he had not been excused for his actions.
When Tanjiro finally vanquished the powerful demon, Rui, he placed his hand on Rui’s back as the demon faded. Simply showing warmth, a warmth even the demon noticed, was something that brought him great comfort. Once Rui had faded, Giyu appeared and stood atop his remains, chastising Tanjiro for having mercy.
Giyu: Don’t waste any sympathy on a demon that devoured humans. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a child. It’s still a hideous monster that’s lived for decades. Tanjiro: To avenge people who were killed, to make sure there are no more victims, of course I'll bring my blade down on any demon’s neck without mercy. But as for those whom being a demon meant despair, those who regretted their own actions... I will never trample over them. Because demons were once human too. Just like me, they were human too. Please step off him. They’re not hideous monsters at all. Demons are hopeless creatures. They’re tragic creatures.
Tanjiro saw that simply being guilty of being a demon didn’t mean that they didn’t deserve mercy or grace. He saw then not just for their actions or what they became. He saw them for who they were, their struggle to get to this place, and the pain and heartache that allowed them to remain in that place. He was willing to cry for respect and grace for a monster who had literally just left him wounded and bleeding on the ground. The same demon had been responsible for the death of hundreds. Tanjiro saw the truth that guilt doesn’t negate grace. This is something Jesus modeled too. In John chapter 8, we see the story of a woman who was absolutely guilty, but Jesus did nothing but show her grace.
“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” - John 8:1-11
Jesus knew she was guilty, but never asked her about it. Jesus knew she was sinful, but only offered her mercy. Jesus knew she deserved condemnation under the law, but instead he stood in the path of those who would condemn her. He didn’t just blatantly excuse her sin. He offered her grace and mercy and told her to leave the ways that had brought her to that place. He didn’t tell her that to shame her, but to point her in the direction of life, not condemnation.
Jesus saw that guilt didn’t negate grace, but even more so that the guilty need grace most of all. Nothing says this more than the moment on the cross when Jesus cried out for forgiveness for the very ones who were torturing Him.
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” - Luke 23:34.
One of the last things Jesus said before His death on the cross was calling out for the forgiveness of the people who nailed him to that cross. He knew, that while they were guilty, they didn’t have a full understanding of the scope of their actions.
That’s the model that Jesus displayed for us. We need to remember that when we see people caught up in sin and struggling with life. That same forgiveness, grace and mercy are still what He wants us to bring to the situation. This was the same attitude that Tanjiro brought to his sister and to demon-slaying in general. It made the Hashira (think Jedi council for demon slayers) extremely volatile when Tanjiro brought Nezuko before them to plead that they not kill his demon sister. After finally proving to the Hashira that Nezuko was not a threat and that mercy was the right option, Shinobu Kocho sat down on the roof with Tanjiro to tell her story. Her big sister had also shared Tanjiro’s grace and mercy for the demons, and it cost her life.
“Every time I see the tears of those who’ve lost their loved ones to a demon, every time I hear those cries of despair, the anger keeps building up inside me, and continues to swell. There’s a revulsion that I can’t fight. My big sister was a kind-hearted person like you. She had sympathy for demons. Even when she was on the brink of death, she still felt pity for them. I couldn’t bring myself to feel that way. How can you feel sorry for something that’s killed humans? I’ve never heard of anything so absurd. But if that was how my sister truly felt, then I must carry it on. If there’s a way not to kill these pitiful demons, I have to keep trying to come up with it. Without ever extinguishing the smile that my sister said she loved. Demons do nothing but lie. Losing all reason out of self-preservation, they murder humans with their instincts laid totally bare. Tanjiro, please do all that you can. Please find a way to protect Nezuko until the end. Knowing that you’re working so hard in my place reassures me to no end.”
Shinobu was grateful to have Tanjiro’s heart in their midst, even if she didn’t share it. We should all be grateful to have people that seek the lost and desire to give them mercy. Sometime in the future we may very well find ourselves as the ones lost and in need of help.
The second half of 2019 got to be a very dark and scary place for me in terms of my own sin, depression, and despair. Some very loving and graceful people helped bring me out of it. These people were willing to carry my burden so that I could deal with my load. This is the heart we need to keep among ourselves. Tanjiro didn’t just want to destroy demons, he wanted to cure them and to help them find life. James had similar feelings towards those who were lost in their own sins.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” - James 5:19-20.
God wants us to have the stubborn love, grace, and mercy for people lost and struggling in sin that Tanjiro has for his sister and those “hopeless, tragic creatures” their world calls demons.